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The Illusion of Boonville
by Bill Kimberlin

October 30, 2001

Anderson Valley view

         I asked a real estate agent once why Boonville wasn't more popular with the Napa Valley set. She lowered her voice and said, almost conspiratorially, "It's the name".
  is a hick name. But then Sagaponack, in The Hamptons , where all the swells summer, doesn't exactly slip grandly off the tongue either. No, its more than the name. Outwardly, there is nothing to do here. No golf courses, no Wine Train, no Steinbeck connection, nothing to register on the quaint meter.
         Most travelers slow down to gaze at Boonville and then speed off after having completed the survey. Some poor folks even park and walk around expectantly, but their hopes soon fade, and they drive off quickly.
  "Many were dreaming of the wonderful life they would have if only they could get to Los Angeles."
         The Valley kids will tell you in an instant what the problem is, "There's nothing to do here". It's a lament that I'm quite familiar with, having heard it all through Anderson Valley High from my fellow scholars during the 1960's.
         It's true, there is nothing to do here. But it is also true that some people can find something, in "nothing". Young children can do it. They find plenty to do here, and always have. It's when they get a little older and more worldly that they first discover the problem. This used to happen at about the age of thirteen. Now I suspect that it happens even earlier.
         On a recent trip to France I noticed that this was not just a Valley phenomenon. The college kids I met in French villages were plainly disinterested in the ancient ruins, art museums and the other charms of life I was reveling in. "There's nothing to do here," was the gist of what they said. Many were dreaming of the wonderful life they would have if only they could get to Los Angeles.
         Of course, this is exactly as it should be. We go away so that we can come home again, each place letting us reflect back on what we had at the other. The Valley kids will surely do this. They will go away, but they will also come back, if only in their minds, to what they had here.
Clow Ridge sign  
         To walk along Clow Ridge, or down the Navarro River, or into the cathedral of Hendy Woods, I would argue, is about as profound an adventure as any you are likely to experience, even if it doesn't seem like much is happening.
         I've been chasing the faint charms of this little rural town for some time now and am still hard pressed to describe them. My brother says they are just an illusion. Yet, if so, it's still one that enchants. I am reminded of the painter who is forever trying to capture the look of sunlight falling on nature. He knows that he will never quite achieve it, but he also knows that there is a gift in trying.
         For instance, the other day I stopped by the organic farm of Vicki and Mike Brock. Usually, I just scan the vegetables set out for sale and count out my change from the little self-serve cash box. But this day, Vicki approached asking, "Would you like some corn?"
         What a question, I thought. Would I like to walk with her into the corn fields with her tiny daughter, Julia, trailing behind us in her birthday suit, to pull ears of young fresh corn from the stalk; corn which I would be eating at my dinner table within the hour? As calmly as I could, I said, "Yes, I would like some corn."
         So we headed out into the fields in the warm sun of a late summer afternoon, first stopping to admire the giant pumpkin crop that Mike was growing for the contests he enters.
  A giant pumpkin grown by Mike Brock
         Little Julia marched right up to one behemoth that was approaching 900 pounds and pulled back the netting that shaded this carefully nurtured specimen. "Daddy's pumpkin", she announced triumphantly. This pumpkin would later win him a prize, once he had figured out how to move it.
         As I looked around this idyllic farm with its original 13 star American Flag flying high atop a pole securely planted amongst the organic crops, I thought of the imprint this simple ritual of going into the fields on the Valley floor, surrounded by Redwood forests on the one side and rolling grassy hills on the other, would make on this little girl, just as it did on me so many years before her.
         If there is an illusion to this place it was present that day, watching Julia's own senses drinking it all in, as she stumbled over dirt clods trailing Mommy to the corn patch at golden hour in Boonville.


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